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College Essays and Your English Teacher

Can your English teacher help you write a winning college essay?

On one hand, If your high school English teacher (or guidance counselor, for that matter) is a former college admissions officer, then he is absolutely qualified to help brainstorm, strategize and edit your son or daughter’s essay.

Otherwise, he's just guessing.

College essay writing is different than the expository or other type of (boring) papers students write in high school.

Which is why your typical, garden variety English teacher has NO CLUE what a winning college personal statement or supplemental essay should look like, because she's never been inside an admissions office, deliberating the pros and cons of thousands of applicants.

In my 20+ years of college advising experience, I’ve employed several former college admissions officers from the University of Chicago, known for its quirky supplemental college essay topics (“Define X”) and other competitive colleges.  Plus I’ve read every book I could get my hands on, attend conferences and presentations 1-3 times per year, etc. 

I’ve made it a point to crack the code on the entire college admissions and financial aid process, and continue my education weekly, if not daily.  (Even I get overwhelmed by the rapid, unpredictable changes – it’s hard for me to see how a “normie” like you could possibly get a handle on things. But I digress…)

Yes, your teacher can help ensure that your essays are grammatically correct, have a beginning, middle and conclusion, but these components alone are bare minimum requirements.  They won’t, in and of themselves, get a child into college.

STRATEGY is more important than grammar and punctuation.   The essays have displaced college interviews, probably because the Common Application and test optional policies are responsible for flooding admissions offices with seemingly new record numbers of applications each year. 

A college essay should:

Show personal growth, meaning a before and after;

Describe an “inciting incident,” or a moment when your son or daughter had a realization or pivot point that changed her trajectory, opinion or outlook;  and


Here’s an outline of an essay that a student of mine, Luke S., used. It’s from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away:


  1. I was working on moisture farm on a lame, desolate planet
  2. I hated it and was desperate to leave and become a pilot
  3. My uncle bought a couple of droids, one of which played me a mysterious message, seemingly by mistake

Inciting Incident

  1. I took the droid to old man Kenobi, a weirdo who lived on the outskirts of town, who knew my aunt, uncle and  deceased father
  2. After watching the mysterious message, the old man suddenly tried hard to convince me to go on a mission to defeat the Empire.  What is he, nuts?  I refused.
  3. Then, we all rushed back to my farm, only to discover that Empire Storm Troopers killed my aunt and uncle


  1. I brushed off this tragedy like a sociopath, changed my mind and joined the old man on a Hero’s Journey
  2. I acquired mysterious skills and powers along the way
  3. I used my newfound powers to confront my father -- who turned out not to be dead --  defeat the Empire and discover my destiny

Easy, right?  

Tomorrow I'll discuss what an essay does NOT have to be, and share the most critical thing you MUST do to create an essay so compelling that admissions officers (practically) crawl naked over broken glass to admit your student.

In the meantime, here's a reminder about our 10th annual Get College Ready Essays and Applications Bootcamp.  The highlights:

  • Two (2) instructional sessions to discover how to stand out from 50,000 near-identical competitors as an Incomparable Applicant
  • Four (4) working Drafting Sessions (two Sunday mornings in July, two in August) to write, edit, brainstorm with our editors
  • Eight (8) open Office Hours, weekly during the evening throughout July and August to get additional help with essays, applications, the college list, more
  • Additional editing and support outside of the above sessions
  • WE hold your student accountable.  YOU don't have to scream at or threaten them all summer :)

Here's where to get all details and take advantage of our 10% off instant scholarship (discount):  use coupon code BOOT-10 or BOOT-10EZ for the one-pay or payment plan options:

Learn more...


- Andy Lockwood

P.S.  Enrollment closes June 15 or when we sell our last 4 spots, whichever is sooner.

You can attend live, in our BRAND NEW office or virtually, over Zoom.

P.P.S.  If you and a buddy sign up, we'll knock off a few more bucks.  Email me with questions.


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